Thursday, November 19, 2015

Salty Tears of Teacherhood

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” – Maya Angelou

Some stared at me in horror, some in outright discomfort, and others in simple astonishment. I don’t think they could believe this was happening any more than I could.

I, their teacher, the one who was always so happy and chirpy, so ready to joke and smile, was crying as I stood at the front of the classroom to talk to them.

I didn’t plan it.

When students sign up for my classes, I take an interest in them. I like to know their stories, where they’ve come from, what they’ve been through. I become very protective (in a completely appropriate way, of course). I try to help them. I encourage them to talk to me if they need to, to vent, they know they can come to me if they have a problem or need help. They become my kids. And no matter where they go, or how old they get, I’ll always still think of them as my kids.

Damn. Kids can be real heartbreakers.

I’ve noticed a…relaxing…in their work ethic as the semester counts down. And Wednesday, when I arrived at class with my favorite purple dry-erase marker and my lecture all planned out over the chapter they were supposed to have read, it was a dagger to the heart when only two people in the entire class could say they had completed the reading. Two.

So my talk began as simple disappointment. I don’t yell when I’m angry. I tend to get quieter. I asked, in all seriousness, why they were in college. One student dutifully answered “to learn.” Is it? I answered. Lately I see very little evidence of that. Think about why you’re here. 

I like to laugh, and tell stories, and have fun. That’s how I teach. But—

And I never saw it coming.

I cared too fucking much that these kids pulled their shit together. My throat got tight, and my eyes got blurry.

“I’m sorry,” I said to them. I had to pause for quite some time before I could even say anything else. “Somewhere along the semester, I failed you as a professor because I must have somehow made you think you didn’t have to work.” The tears were spilling over by now, and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

I missed my chance in there somewhere to inspire them. To engage them. These were my kids. My responsibility.

“You weren’t prepared for today,” I told them. “Do better for Friday. Be better. Now, I need you to leave.” I had to dismiss class (though I don’t imagine that bothered them in the least). I was in no fit state to teach.

One student spoke to me nicely after class, and two students very sweetly approached me after class and hugged me. One of whom I never would have expected.

Maybe I haven’t failed them completely, after all.

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